DAVID PYE'S MONDAY BIG MATCH VERDICT: Wanderers 2 Watford 0
TWO heads are often better than one and a return to an attacking partnership for Wanderers paid big dividends on Saturday as an in-form Watford were comfortably dispatched at the Reebok.
Manager Dougie Freedman is always quick to stress success on the football field is more about personnel than tactics and formations.
And his post-match insistence that it was not all about the strikers at the weekend, despite a goal apiece for loan stars Lukas Jutkiewicz and Joe Mason, just enforced that view.
But when the fans have been crying out for two up top and the result of doing that sees both on the scoresheet – and a hatful of other chances created, particularly for Mason – then it is hard for them not to highlight the plus points of a return to 4-4-2.
You can count on one hand the number of times those faithful supporters have left the Reebok with a smile on their face this season but on Saturday they were positively beaming.
It was not just that elusive home win and a first of 2014 in the league, but the style of performance that belied their lowly position and recent form.
Not since the days of a certain Jay-Jay Okocha has the football been played with such a swagger; now the fans have a different union of ‘Js’ to excite them in the shape of strike duo Joe and ‘the Juke’.
The pair were certainly in tune in their first game together – providing the X-factor the Whites had been lacking in recent weeks and, in truth, for much of the season.
Mason’s return was heralded by Freedman pre-match and from the first whistle he looked like a more energised young forward than in his first spell at the club.
He certainly benefited from having a buddy in attack, and when that pal is a man in rich form like Jutkiewicz, it is certainy a fair bet it will work out swimmingly.
And so it did on Saturday with Mason’s inclusion the only personnel change from the Millwall stalemate a week earlier – in for Chris Eagles.
But the set-up was completely different.
Not only did Freedman choose a dual threat in attack but the four behind were specifically lob-sided to allow Mark Davies the freedom to express himself wider on the left.
And he revelled in it. In fact, he was the provider for Mason’s first chance of the afternoon after 10 minutes when he played a superb reverse pass, after a flowing move, finding the Cardiff youngster in space but his low effort was blocked by ex-Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia.
It wasn’t just Almunia called into early action, though, as Whites stopper Adam Bogdan arguably produced the save of the match to deny Troy Deeney just four minutes later.
Tricky winger Ikechi Anya forced his way to the byline past Alex Baptiste before floating a cross in from the left to an unmarked Deeney but his point-bank header, albeit too central, was superbly turned away Bogdan.
You could argue it was a big moment – it was as close as the Hornets got all day.
Admittedly, they were below-par as conceded by their management staff afterwards.
But credit where it is due, while the forwards were hitting the headlines at the other end, the Wanderers backline stood strong and deserved a rare clean sheet.
Matt Mills and David Wheater in the middle were the archetypal rocks of the defence.
And that gave Wanderers a good base to build on and, for once, they went on and did just that.
After Mason’s early sighter, there was another soon after as he latched on to Baptiste’s searching ball forward to nod ahead of the last man and this time go round Almunia, only to have the ball taken off his toe by right-back Marco Faraoni at the last minute.
The fans were loving the fluent, flowing football they were being treated to, but you still sensed some anxiety that the chances were not being converted. On the bench too, Freedman was up early in his technical area shouting instructions.
His plans took a dent midway through the first half when Darren Pratley was forced off with a shoulder injury, paving the way for Neil Danns’ return.
And he looked more like the Danns of old as he quickly set about joining in with the attacking forays.
But it would be the loan man of the moment who broke the deadlock 10 minutes before half time.
After the superb Medo had been felled on the right, Jay Spearing sent in a low cross from the free-kick that somehow evaded everyone to find Jutkiewicz sliding in at the back post.
It was a third goal in four games for the ex-Everton man who is looking like another shrewd acquisition by Freedman.
You have to give the boss his due, most of his loan additions have been huge successes and Jutkiewicz is certainly that.
Not just the big, bustling forward the Whites have yearned for but one who is intelligent, has an eye for goal and brings others into play.
And it was Mason who benefited most at the weekend.
He got his deserved goal just seconds before the end of the first half when again he reacted quickly to pounce on Danns’ header back into the danger area to this time beat Almunia with a low left-footer.
The players had the rare experience of an ovation as they left the pitch and rightly so.
The fans knew they deserved it.
And they continued in the same vein after the interval, albeit they could not add to their tally.
Danns saw an acrobatic effort saved by Almunia, Medo, whose performance had been a revelation all afternoon, curled a free-kick from distance over and Mason was again denied by the Hornets’ Spanish stopper near the end.
All the time, Mills and Co at the back were snuffing out any threat of a comeback.
A team effort it was and a first league double of the season was the result of arguably the most complete Wanderers display of the campaign.
But goals win you games and whether ex-striker Freedman likes it or not – the success of the Mason-Jutkiewicz double act will be the main cause of delight for the fans who got their wish.